Lent 2021: 1st Week
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”
Dry Whisperings in the Wilderness
by David Morrison
The desert is a constant theme in the spiritual life of Israel and early Christians. In fact, the lone figure going away into a hostile environment to face the faceless is a major theme in every spiritual tradition and myth in human history. Indeed, every human being has an interior desert. It’s that place of our traumas, fears, and all that’s unseen and unheard within us. Our instinctive response to it is to avoid taking any trips into that emptiness within. The rest of our energy is spent on keeping the desert at bay by building the structures of self-sufficiency and relevancy, religion, and power in front of the dunes that pile up. Of course, these are the very things Jesus resisted and overcame in his temptation, and they’re so often the very things historic Christendom has anointed and validated.
The spiritual journey begins when we’re no longer driving away from the desert or keeping it from coming to us, but being “led by the Spirit” into it. For some, this initiation comes as a slight stirring in the heart, and for others, it arrives in the form of a complete overturning of life circumstances. What do we do when we find ourselves “staring into the abyss, and the abyss staring back into us?” It’s here that contemplative prayer becomes a doorway that appears when all other ways are lost to us. From the text, I get the sense that Jesus seems to be practicing a prototype of “Lectio Divina.” That is, taking a scripture and ruminating it over and over in the mind until it spills into the heart and awakens the imagination. The process of prayer is effective for dealing with the trauma of our deserts as it helps absorb the patterns of compulsive thought that assail us when we’ve suffered pain. This often breaks into a contemplative state in which we simply rest in the present moment and therefore in the presence of God with “angels ministering to us,” as it were.
The ultimate aim of prayer is to be emptied of all prayer. In the wilderness of our own temptations, we feel the friction of the wind as it whispers the story of our subterranean woundedness. It’s in this very aridity that the Holy Spirit teaches us to extract stillness from our restlessness; solitude from our isolation, and the “word of the Spirit” from our interior chaos. The spiritual journey always brings us to the desert of our weaknesses and fragile vulnerabilities, and it’s here that we experience transformation within our trauma. Real prayer begins when we pray out of our poverty, and when we experience this real kind of prayer—Real life begins.
Prayer of Abandonment
by Charles de Foucault
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.
The Desert Way
by David Morrison
In my trials, Oh Lord, You provide passageways in the desert:
You are my Way when there is no other way.
You are my Way when there are too many ways before me.
Let all my ways flow into Your Way,
for you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life;
And You, Yourself are my Bread in the Wilderness.
*Banner Image: Filtered photo by David Morrison, 2021